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Australian scientists find potential new treatment option for autoimmune disorders

12th June, 2012

Dr Suzanne Hodgkinson

Scientists from the University of NSW have discovered a potential new way of treating autoimmune diseases, by regulating the natural immune response.

The research was led by Dr Suzanne Hodgkinson and Dr Giang Tran from the Faculty of Medicine and Liverpool Hospital. Unusually, the focus of the study was on increasing ‘good’ regulating cells rather than reducing the ‘bad’ effector cells. This new approach was able to reduce disease duration or even prevent disease onset in a laboratory model of Guillain–Barré syndrome, an inflammatory disease of the peripheral nervous system. It is also showing promise in a number of other conditions, including MS.

The scientists injected a protein, known as interleukin-5, that sends messages between cells. The good regulating cells, when they had a specific protein on their cell surface, were able to respond to the interleukin-5 and better regulate the immune response. The results have been published in the prestigious journal Blood.

‘One of the nice things about this discovery is that it is one of the few treatments in the auto-immune world and in the transplantation world that works not by attacking the effector cells, but by increasing the good regulating cells. So it works in a very different way from almost every other treatment we’ve got available,’ explained Dr Hodgkinson. ‘The next step is to take the treatment to human trials, which could be underway within two to five years.’

The research was funded from a number of sources, including MS Research Australia. ‘This work provides hope for better MS treatments,’ said Jeremy Wright, CEO of MS Research Australia, ‘We are delighted to be involved in funding this project’.

To read the article abstract [click here]